“What if it started on page 22?” … “What about everything that came before?” … “Maybe you don’t need it.” … “The first 21 pages!” — Okay. Slightly dramatized (though only in the dialogue). Recently I met with a friend who had asked me to look at one of the scripts they’d written. It was entertaining and funny, occasionally heart-warming, needed the occasional formatting nudge, and overall a really great read. But I knew something about this friend concerning criticism: they can take it. So I didn’t hold back. We talked about their script and I really did ask the question above: “What if it started on page 22?” The implication was immense. The first 21 pages would… what? Disappear? All of that work… gone? Perhaps you’re thinking I was too harsh or that they took it as a joke, but I wasn’t and they didn’t. When you write a research paper you might also need such a seemingly harsh critique.
The fact of the matter was that this friend had basically written the first 21 pages to begin to understand what she wanted to write. Sort of set up the back story she needed for the real story to take place. There’s nothing wrong with that (it’s how I write), but you have to be prepared to lose a lot of “writing” (it’s just words after all). On page 22 she got to the meat of the story. It was strong and clear and vibrant: and she didn’t need any of the stuff from the previous 21 pages. Whenever I write a paper I just start writing. Perhaps I write a chunk here and a chunk there. I’ll write a number of different introductions and transitions. Then I force myself to cobble them all together and read it: and it doesn’t work at all. But doing that only shows me that I need to shuffle things around a bit. So I do. More next time.